The author provides a fresh analysis of the DPC, suggests some changes in nomenclature, the role of the NSA in the architecture and explains why a whole of ship approach may be the key to future- readiness in many dimensions.
‘Strategic Partnership’ Within Instruments of the State
In the past few days of the Defence Planning Committee’s promulgation, much has been written in support and a fair bit in criticism. Essentially, there are four inter-dependent lines of policy and strategy formulation, their monitoring as required in peace and conflict, their course corrections and execution, well known by the DIME acronym, viz. Diplomatic, Informational(including intelligence), Military and Economic.
If this framework is considered—and it obviously has been–then the move certainly seems much more than a dime’s worth. Finally, there is what sailors call a ‘whole of ship’ approach to affairs of the ‘ship- of- state’.
About a year ago in writing for this portal around the three- year mark of the present government, I had said ←, “There is much more that needs to be done in the areas of jointness, integration, reduction of personnel through better utilisation and a break from old ways of doing many things. If India is to advance and protect her interests, the instruments of hard-power need to be future-ready, self-reliant, dynamic, joint, and progressive. Hard power works in consonance with politico-diplomatic and economic instruments of statecraft and does not stand in the way of soft power employed in India’s interests. In that sense, there is ‘Strategic Partnership’ in all the instruments of statecraft in any case.”
In important ways, the DPC, due to its membership, incorporates the key functional players of the DIME. By putting them together, the basis of a “whole of ship” approach can now become the culmination of policies and planning. Therefore, those proposals that then need political approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) can be tabled faster. As far as can be surmised, many other proposals would be approved by the DPC itself in terms of ‘Approval In Principle’ at least and then sent for processing.
Some Thoughts on Nomenclature
While the promulgation order implies that policy formulation is very much within the DPC’s charter, the name itself reflects the function of ‘planning’. Second, given its charter, very high level composition, immense advisory and executive charters, it could be called a ‘Council’ in preference to Committee. Considering these two suggestions together, it could perhaps be renamed Defence Policy and Planning Council in the near future. Four more aspects may be germane:
- In the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) framework, there is an Executive Council and a Political Council and the term is used advisedly.
- The promulgation order pointedly says the DPC will comprise, inter alia, the Chairman COSC and the Service Chiefs. The COSC is already a committee that is part of the DP Committee. A “council” appellation could, therefore, be more appropriate.
- The other implication is also self- evident: the Government has not closed the door on having a separate Chairman of the COSC. Else, it could have just said ‘the Service Chiefs’one of whom would have been a rotational Service Chief as Chairman anyway. Some observers who have interpreted that the DPC may mean that a CDS is ‘dead’ before birth, may not be right. Since the CISC is currently member secretary, someday with the inclusion of a CDS/ Pmt Chairman COSC, his Chief of Staff/ VCDS/ Vice-Chairman could do the same role.
- With NSA as Chairman, and HQIDS as the Secretariat of the DPC could bring to fruition the important charter that HQIDS has had since inception but one that often got subsumed in the turf rivalries and sensitivities that abound.
NSA as Chairman
There have been some reservations about the NSA being Chairman. Those that allude to his professional background etc., are quite irrelevant and facile. Some arguments about the NSA already having a large charter, official as well as informally assigned, may be relevant as Nitin Gokhale ← has also pointed out. Over the last two decades, this important political but non- electoral/ministerial appointment is the security lynchpin for diplomacy, internal security, nuclear deterrence architecture and strategic forces as well as intelligence coordination. In a parliamentary system, this was well- advised after India became a nuclear weapon state. With the addition of defence (with its multi-discipline members), all instruments of DIME are aligned for the first time. Yes, the already high personal load on the NSA will increase, but NSAs have not, now or earlier, seemed to flinch from workloads! Moreover, there will be specialists and secretariats to draft policy and planning inputs as well as help execute them.
Next, the upholding of the nuclear deterrence architecture, steering it through periods of some deterrence instability (which is not the same as failure of deterrence) and readiness to take necessary measures in case of imminent threat or attack, the alignment of the NCA with the DPC is more than signalling. It strengthens overall deterrence effectiveness. It is ultimately the political trust and the authority vested in the office of the NSA that is far more critical than his/ her professional background. Moreover, it may not be inconceivable for a future NSA to be a military veteran. Would there be any basis then for the heads or veterans of central civilian services or intelligence services to think of this as a problem?
For the first time, there are clear directions of the policy and strategy assessments and documents that are required. Those that would be public would be as important as those that would be classified, but for quite different reasons. In effect, a national security strategy (NSS) is actually an amalgam of more than a few strategies, despite the preference for the singularity in the title.
In analysing US NSS documents over some years now, a few realities are worth mentioning. Internally within the US, the NSS is meant to conclude debates about where the US should be headed, what it should do, what should it be concerned about. Sometimes, its publication starts off new debates, domestic and international! This is to be expected. Second, a NSS should provide reasonably clear guidance for other documents (public and classified). Third, to a palpable extent, it should reassure friends. Fourth, to quite an extent, it should worry those who may be inimical to our well- being and overall security interests. Finally, the absence of a public policy and strategy document does not automatically imply the absence of policy and strategy. However, the absence of classified guidance documents do make it more difficult for lower- echelon doctrinal and strategy documents to have the weight and veracity that they must have. It must be said here that the Indian Navy’s initiatives in writing doctrine and strategy documents in the absence of such guidance more than a decade ago was path-breaking. With a NSS and other guidance, the lower hierarchy of documents will be all the more robust, useful and longer- lasting.
It is possible to put other aims of the DPC as a hope for making the hard power of the state future- ready. The composition enables formal group- think among key players and if there are adequately “untidy” discussions—meaning robust, well- prepared and honest arguments—the likelihood of tidy solutions to problems may emerge. (The reverse, i.e., tidy discussions and possibly untidy solutions is a cultural- social reality in and beyond officialdom; but it needs changing).
Future-readiness is of course dynamic. Its relevance spans organisational structures, threat assessments, capabilities required to avoid threats and to pose an adequate level of threat to ensure deterrence or victory. It also spans the organisational changes for indigenisation and self-reliance, force structuring and force readiness. Some salient aspects of future- readiness are as follows:
- Candid assessments of the likely tactical and operational environments in say, 15, 25, 40 and 50 year time spans in which legacy hardware that we already have, that which is building or in the procurement pipeline, and that which needs to be effective in the environments in which they might deter and fight.
- Neither platforms nor ordnance is automatically “strategic”. All contribute to achievement of strategic aims by being effective, successful and largely survivable in the higher spectrum of conflict within the likely operational and tactical environments. For example, some merely illustrative questions to be asked of ourselves: What could be the anti-tank, anti-aircraft (manned and unmanned), anti-ship, anti-satellite, cyber-threat environments etc., we could face or impose in 10- 20- 40- 60 years’ horizons? This is admittedly not easy because of conformism, comfort zones, business motives etc., and is not limited to the armed forces but also R&D, industry and bureaucracies.Yes, errors can be made in such estimates. These, however, would be much smaller than errors that will be made in the absence of such processes.
- This, when combined with currently needed organisational restructuring, could help shift the general allure of what I have called “past- perfectness” rather than “future- readiness”.
- Autarky or Self- Reliance/ “Swavalamban” in Hindi. This too is mandated in the charter and does bring the main decision- makers together in the DPC or in the satellite groups around it.
- Future-readiness may also require more money. Whether this is to be assessed as a percentage of GDP or as government expenditure, or on as required basis require decisions by the DPC if future-readiness, autarky and defence exports are to be ensured. Given the spirit and letter of the DPC, the likelihood of money being invested and spent wisely and in a timely way now seems more likely than at any time since 1947.
Consequentially, one hopes that some of the current sets of committees, groups, and even organisations will be disbanded or radically streamlined to help make the intent and purpose of the DPC become a reality. With decision makers being combined around one table, the implementation framework needs flattening/ shortening. The phrase ‘wield an axe’ to overcome some ‘axes to grind’ comes to mind…
Finally, if the ship- of – state is to sail with robustness, resolve and readiness, the whole of ship approach enshrined in the DPC may turn out to be the key. After all, the who’s who of decision making are all now at the captain’s table…
Rear Admiral Sudarshan Y Shrikhande, IN (Retd)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)